TCR Europe: Michelle Halder wins Zolder race 2
At only her second round in the series, Michelle Halder made history and became the first woman to win a TCR Europe race after a flawless drive in Zolder.
In a last-minute decision, the Halder siblings pulled out of the ADAC TCR Germany after the Nürburgring round, following a a questionable penalty handed out to Mike Halder in the first race. It was exactly one months ago and, since then, ProfiCar team Halder announced its switch to the TCR Europe championship. A big step for the family-run team, which brought Mike and Michelle Halder to the bigger stage of the continental series, which features some of the most competitive teams and drivers in all the TCR categories.
What followed was nothing short of impressive: Michelle finished just outside the top-10 in both races at Paul Ricard, while Mike won the Sunday race of their debut weekend. But it definitely wasn't a one-off success for the Honda Civics driven by the German siblings, as Mike scored a second place in the first race at Zolder and Michelle claimed a history-making victory on Sunday, becoming the first ever woman to win a continental TCR-sanctioned race.
An incredible result for the 21-year old racer that showed great pace since qualifying and who secured her first top 10 on Saturday, moving up by two places to finish P7.
"The Quali went quite well for us. Today we started the race from 9th place, with a great start I was able to make up some places. I finished the race on a great 7th place. There were definitely some great and hard fights."
The other brother-and-sister team, Target Competition's Jessica and Andreas Bäckman, had a very rough start of ther Belgian weekend, as they were both forced to retire four laps into Saturday's race. Andreas made contact with Sami Toufik and went hard into the wall - totalling the front-end of his Hyundai i30 N TCR car - just moments after Jessica had spun off into the grass and retired.
Home boy Nicolas Baert secured race 1 win, ahead of Mike Halder and Maťo Homola.
On Sunday afternoon, the starting grid looked even more promising for Michelle Halder, who found herself in second place alongside Daniel Lloyd. As the lights went out, she had a great getaway and fired into the lead at Turn 1, leading the whole pack of 20 cars.
In the hectic first metres, Julien Briché and Andreas Bäckman got tangled at Turn 2 and went off in the gravel: the incident marked the end of the race for both drivers, as the Swedish Target Motorsport racer completed an ill-fated weekend with a double retirement.
Martin Ryba was also off at the chicane but rejoined at the end of the field, led by Michelle Halder, Daniel Lloyd and Daniel Nagy - who had a blistering start off the line. Right behind the Hungarian, it was Mike Halder in the second ProfiCar Team Halder Honda, who kept his pressure on Nagy while also having to watch his mirrors from the comeback of Mehdi Bennani. Their battle allowed Michelle and Lloyd to break away, opening a gap of little over two seconds after the first three laps.
Saturday's winner Baert dived on the inside at the chicane and moved up to sixth on Homola, who had to defend from the attacks of Toufik and Oriola - starting a battle that would be extended for most of the race. Oriola passed Toufik for eighth after an exciting side-by-side action.
Jessica Bäckman, starting from the back, moved up the order and advanced to P11, before her teammate John Filippi demoted the Swede back to 12th on lap 6.
Approximately one and a half second clear of Lloyd, Michelle Halder perfectly controlled the race in the lead and never looked under threat. In the closing stages, her brother Mike tried again to clinch the final spot of the podium, but Nagy held on to his position.
On the last lap, Oriola finally made a move stick on Homola at the final chicane, with Toufik also trying to sneak ahead. The Moroccan driver was then attacked by Teddy Clairet, in some more frantic action that saw the Comtoyou Audi going off and promoting Filippi and Jessica Bäckman to tenth and eleventh. A post-race penalty for Clairet moved the Hyundai drivers further up the order by one position.
With all the ProfiCar Team Halder crew cheering on Michelle at the pitwall, the young lady from Germany crossed the finish line after the 14 laps of Race 2 to claim her first victory in the European series, in a truly history-making moment.
"It's just amazing, I had a great start and I drove into the first corner in the lead and after that it was my race, because I was so fast and made no mistakes." - she said right after the historic win. "I'm so happy to win here in Zolder, I've never been here before and it's just incredible. To be writing history as the first female driver to win it's just amazing."
Halder became the first woman to win a race in the German-based ADAC TCR series last year in Zandvoort. She scored her second victory at Nürburgring, before making the winning move to TCR Europe.
Jessica Bäckman, tenth across the line in Zolder, held the previous record for a woman in the series, as she conquered the first podium finish for a female driver in 2019 at Hockenheim.
After her breakthrough result, Michelle Halder now advances to ninth in the championship standings, as the series will contest its third round at the Italian Temple of Speed, the Autodromo Nazionale di Monza, on 25-27 September.